We all lie. We know we shouldn’t. As kids, our caregivers advise us not to lie, but we clue in early on that if we always told the unedited truth, we’d pretty much be sitting alone every day in the school cafeteria.
In adolescence, we know belonging to a social circle or clique requires keeping its secrets. And we keep the confidences of our siblings, too, out of loyalty — and as an insurance policy that they will keep ours.
We may be punished for lying but that’s confusing because we’re observing our parents, and we’re pretty sure they’re lying, too. In fact, one study showed that 60 percent of people can’t go ten minutes without telling a lie.
Are lying and keeping secrets the same thing? Ostensibly, yes, because we process them the same way. The feeling is the same whether someone is withholding information from you or they’re lying to your face. Lies, secrets…they’re cut from the same cloth.
Secrets and Lies
But it’s okay to tell a well-placed fib sometimes, right? When we tell a friend we love her new dress (and we most definitely don’t), or that his new haircut is great (when, in fact, it’s an epic fail), we convince ourselves we’re just being kind. In those moments, we actually feel good about lying.
Every family has its own culture and, for some, that culture is built on secrecy and lies. I grew up in a family with a lot of secrets. But the concept of truth-telling was sacrosanct and we kids were always encouraged to do so. Behind the scenes, however, a myriad of untruths were simmering, and that mixed messaging was puzzling at best.
So, when kids become adults in relationships, we’re already clear that lying is acceptable. And that’s, as they say, where the fun begins.
Here are ways secrets and lies wreak havoc on your relationship:
1) They create inauthenticity. “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” is the furthest thing from the truth. We humans are intuitive, and our radar usually goes into high gear when we know someone isn’t being upfront. Whether your partner can name your lie — or whether she just suspects there is one — a shift in the relationship occurs. Where there’s lying, there’s inauthenticity. No way around it.
2) They screw up the mojo. Ever told a lie? Know how they tend to get bigger and more involved over time? While you’re attempting to keep information from your partner, you’re expending way too much energy in all the wrong places. All the energy you could be infusing into the relationship is being sapped by your efforts to keep your stories straight in order to manage your partner’s suspicions.
3) They’re bad for your health. Yep, depending on the size of the secret and the energy it takes to protect it, holding back the truth can make you sick. In one study, participants who cut back on lying had fewer mental health and physical complaints. Lying can make you anxious and depressed. It can also trigger headaches and make you nauseous.
4) They drain your brain. Your brain gets muddled by lying, scientists say. The part of your brain wired to tell the truth is essentially being rewired by your lies, ramping up your stress hormones and interfering with things like learning and memory.
5) They make you lonely. How close can you get to your partner when you’re keeping something from her? Being vulnerable is too scary because it creates the possibility that the lie/secret will be revealed. Same goes for intimacy. You can’t get too close because the relationship isn’t your priority — upholding your lie is.
6) They create disrespect. If you’re keeping information from your partner, you’re depriving him of the right to process the impact that information may have on him. You’re disrespecting his opportunity to make informed decisions about his life and your relationship. And that’s simply not fair.
Deciding to keep a secret or tell a lie is always a choice. And, often, we choose either or both because we’re afraid we can’t withstand the consequences of coming clean. But which is preferable: A relationship (and, perhaps, a life) suffocated by the heavy curtains of secrets and lies? Or a deeply-breathed life lived with a clear conscience and self-respect?